Wednesday, May 30, 2007
By Harold Segura
There’s something new here, at least for me. This is the first time I read in documents of the Catholic Church the recognition that this is a Continent of baptized Catholics, but not of converted disciples who are practicing their faith. This statement was clear in the Synthesis Document. At the Conference, it was Cardinal Cláudio Hummes (Brazil) who repeated this confession once again. He is one of Benedict XVI’s representatives at this meeting, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. So he’s clearly authorized for speaking on these topics! What he said was: “…the majority of Catholics in our continent do not participate anymore, or have never participated, in the life of our church communities. We baptized them, but for many reasons we haven’t been able to evangelize them sufficiently.” As they say in my country. “A rooster wouldn’t crow as clearly.” And, as if his words were not enough, he supported them with the words of the Pope himself, who said to the Brazilian bishops in São Paulo that there were “baptized people who were not sufficiently evangelized.”
Cardinal Hummes proposed to undertake a large Continental Mission. We will hear a lot about this Mission in the coming years, because it was unanimously approved today, and it is very likely that it will be added to the Final Document. This Mission will be part of the pastoral guidelines of the Church after Aparecida, “until the next Conference of the Episcopate.” And that could mean that this is the pastoral project for the next two decades.
But, what is the Continental Mission? I am going to attempt at answering by making a personal synthesis of what I have heard during these days: “It is an evangelizing initiative agreed upon by the Bishops in an attempt to ‘awaken the Church’ for it to announce the name of Jesus with greater intentionality, for it to reach those who have gone away, and to attract those who have never been a part of it.” So much for my profane attempt to define it. In other words, it’s a Catholic move forward for the re-evangelization of Latin America and the Caribbean. The term “re-evangelization” was used yesterday by Bishop Raúl Eduardo Vela (Quito), and I highlight it because I remember that I used the same term several years ago in a personal conversation with a priest friend, and he corrected me saying, “Harold, we don’t speak about re-evangelization but about a new evangelization.” In fact, until recently, there was no admission of the need to evangelize the baptized, but only to evangelize non-believers, as had been done several centuries back.
Don’t you think, then, that, for the first time, in this particular point of evangelization, Catholics and Evangelicals have come to an agreement? Well, we have. We always believed that what was needed here was not religion and tradition, but faith and relationship with God. And it turns out to be the case, to bring the coincidence to its highest point, that we have even agreed on some of the methods that need to be used to accomplish this objective—going from door to door in search of the candidates. You don’t believe it? Well, that’s what it is. What we evangelicals call “door-to-door visitation”, Cardinal Hummes, interpreting the words of the Pope, has called “house missionary visits”. These words are very much in our style for evangelicals, and they make us feel at home. Dr. Juan Sepúlveda is right in asking, “Why did they criticize us so much for doing something that they now admit they have to do too?”
Before passing the Final Document today, Wednesday (we still need to see the third version and approve it at the end of the day), the attention for the last two days was focused on Continental Mission. This is very important “in order to be a strong, vigorous Church once again,” as has been said enthusiastically. We broke up into twelve working groups in order to review this missionary proposal and to make some observations. I was with a group of bishops, two laymen and a religious sister, all of them very kind, who gave me a chance to speak on two occasions. I said that in this Mission we could also work together, with the obvious reservations that we are already aware of. I then added that biblical pastoral activities, liturgical renewal and the mobilization of the laity could be three central axes for the renewal of the local churches; those are, at least, the three elements one can see in places where Catholicism has the force of renewal.
After many years, we have coincided in the diagnostic—the baptized have not been evangelized. What is now needed is to come to an agreement on who will evangelize them and how, so that we can finally find out what proselytism means.
sábado, 2 de junio de 2007
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Between Monday and Tuesday, the Conference activities have revolved around the second draft of the Final Document. We were given most of the day on Monday to read it, to note the changes made, to make suggestions, and, in the case of experts and other special invitees like us Protestants, to approach those bishops that sympathize with some of our recommendations so that they, who have speaking and voting rights, might submit them in writing to the Presidency.
PART THREE: THE LIFE OF JESUS CHRIST FOR OUR PEOPLES
The last changes will be made today, and the final version will be ready tomorrow, Wednesday. The Bishops have sent in today their “modes”, that is, the suggested changes. These are submitted to the Secretariat. And I am told that, up to Monday evening, the Secretariat had received 2000 suggestions for change. The task of the Redaction Commission is as great as its authority to set the final lines of the Document!
The new text has a better thematic consistency; it orders the topics in a well-known sequence (seeing, judging, acting); it is better connected to the motto of the Conference, and it improves redaction and style. All the above is true, but it is also true that it is more rigid in its statements—more in adherence to Benedict XVI. From the Protestant perspective it has points of great interest and openness (there will be time to discuss them later), but without ceasing to make us uncomfortable with its exclusivist ecclesiology (the uniqueness of the Church in the lines of Dominus Iesus) and its purposes of cultural and religious re-conquest. We will have to wait for the final changes in the version of Wednesday.
Right now the second official document of this Conference, titled “Message to the Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean”, is being voted. I like it. I read in its message direct references to ecumenical dialogue, to the preferential option for the poor, to the urgency to make the Church more dynamic through transformation in the Holy Spirit, to radical following of Jesus, to promoting open dialogue with the various social and religious actors , to the promotion of grassroots ecclesial communities, to “being servants at the shared table” (I recalled the book by Rafael Aguirre, The Shared Table) and to being “an open-arms Church.” As Néstor Míguez remarked, “what is new is not what is being said, but who is saying it.”
At this time I’m waiting for the vote on this last document… The electronic voting system didn’t work. “And I could guess how much it has cost,” remarks a Puerto Rican bishop near me… Now, there’s the final result. Votes in favor: 110. Votes against: 16. Abstentions: 2. The message has been passed!
So I must say that, in my opinion, the Conference is taking one step backwards and two steps forward.
martes, 29 de mayo de 2007
Monday, May 28, 2007
By Harold Segura
I was told that on Monday I would participate in the Eucharistic celebration as the reader for one of the scripture passages, but even last night this had not been confirmed. Anyway, I got prepared for the event. I got up earlier than usual (despite the inclement cold), I opened the window to see nothing but the fog, I prepared my dark blue suit, brushed my shoes, adjusted the necktie knot, took breakfast quickly and made off towards my duty. With a sacristan’s pause I walked down the two-hundred-meter ramp leading from the square of the Old Church to the Basilica of Our Lady. This walk can even be a spiritual experience, as long as the sun rises, the birds sing and you can see the majestic dome of Aparecida on the horizon. But today’s cold couldn’t make this anything more than a sacrifice for unity. On the way I found Fr. Efraín Martínez Delgado (Mexico), in charge of coordinating the liturgy during these days, who confirmed my participation and thanked me beforehand.
“So what am I supposed to do, Father?”, I asked.
“Oh no, be calm; just read. We’ll meet at the Basilica and I’ll tell you what the passage is,” he answered.
Well, I said to myself, a reading is just a reading and I have experience. Just tune up my voice (I am betrayed by cough every once in a while), look attentively at the text (my bi-focal glasses can deceive me), do it with the well-known priestly pause (no dramatizing, no Protestant accent) and lift up my eyes from time to time (this I learned in Seminary). Haven’t I been a teacher of Homiletics and taught how to read in public?, I continued to reflect.
A few minutes before the mass began, Fr. Martínez told me not to use my book of Liturgical Celebrations, the red 647-page book we had been given the first day. You will find the book on the lectern, he said, open on the page of the scripture text corresponding to today’s mass. Well, all I did before performing my duty was to read the appointed passage and review the general order of the liturgy. First surprise: this mass is celebrated in the honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Second surprise: the text I’m supposed to read is from a deuterocanonical book, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 24:23-31. Third surprise: at the end of the reading I have to say “The Word of God.” What will my evangelical brothers and sisters say when they see me on TV? Hopefully the joy of seeing me on the screen (because there still are some who rejoice at these small things) will hide from them the fact that I’m reading from the Apocrypha… or hopefully they will mistake Ecclesiasticus for Ecclesiastes. We’ll see, I said, calling on the help of the Holy Spirit.
The mass started at 8:00 a.m. The celebrant was Bishop Carlos Aguiar Retes (Mexico) with two other bishops, Jorge Enrique Jiménez Carvajal (Colombia) and Adalberto Martínez Flores (Paraguay). The choir with more than one hundred voices was, as always, perfectly tuned; the TV people again on their positions; the Cardinals in front, in the first concentric circle, the Bishops in the second, then the laypeople, the experts, the religious brothers and sisters and the observers in the third. When my turn came, I read.
At the end, at 8:50 a.m., when the liturgy was over, the first person to come and greet me was Fr. Víctor Manuel Fernández, Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Theology of the Catholic University of Argentina, UCA. “I realized it already—you did a big ecumenical effort in reading from a deuterocanonical book and saying at the end, ‘The Word of God.’” Once at the Assembly, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, also a President of this Conference, approached me to say thank you for the reading.
“You did it very well,” he said with his always kind Italian smile.
“But Your Eminence,” I said, “this was a trap to me!” And I explained to him what had happened, in case he hadn’t noticed.
So now let me explain what really happened. I am entitled to lawful defense. How can I explain to my evangelical family this “Word of God” tag applied to one of the Apocrypha? Well, this is something I also learned when I was a teacher of Homiletics (being a teacher has to be of some use). When an affirmative sentence is read with a slight elevation of the intonation at the end of the last word, the affirmation becomes an interrogation. So I didn’t say “The Word of God”, but “The Word of God?”. And it’s not my fault if, to my question, everybody responded, “We praise you, Lord.”
Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, was this a trap to me? Or was this my trap to you? All for the sake of unity! We praise you, Lord.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
By Harold Segura
Fifty days after Easter, as the Christian calendar indicates, the feast of Pentecost is celebrated. This is why the Eucharist this Sunday was even more solemn and lasted longer (one hour and forty-five minutes). All the bishops wore their miters and their vestments were more splendorous. Even the basilica looked better without any empty seats and with many pilgrims who came from different parts of Brazil. Many of them stayed there all night, from 11:00 p.m. yesterday to 6:00 a.m. today, participating in the Vigil that was held for this special occasion. They sang all throughout the night (I could hear them from my room), and sometimes they cheered the Virgin and used fireworks, despite how cold the place must have been (around 4º or 6º C, i.e. 39º or 42º F).
The liturgy was led by three cardinals—Eusebio Óscar Scheid (Brazil), Pedro Rubiano Sáenz (Colombia) and Juan Sandoval Íñiguez (México)—and was celebrated in Portuguese. The scripture passage of Acts was read by a Brazilian religious sister. She captured my attention when she read verse 2 (“Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting”), because the word standing for “sound” was the Portuguese term barulho, akin to the Spanish barullo. In Colombia and other countries we use barullo to designate a hubbub, noise or disorder. Once in the hotel I looked in the dictionary, and both the Portuguese barulho and the Spanish barullo had the same meaning. I then reflected on that word, “hubbub”, as applied to the Holy Spirit. I would have never used myself, mainly because in some places this is such a colloquial term that you wouldn’t use it when talking about God.
God causing a hubbub? In fact I liked it. Especially when I contrasted it to the impeccable order in which the liturgy was taking place. The Catholic Church, like many historic Protestant churches, is a model of order and control. They lack the hubbub which we criticize in effusive Pentecostalism (where, in fact, the hubbub is too much).
Several speeches by the Bishops who intervened in the first few days said they hoped this Conference to be a new Pentecost. For example, the Bishops’ Conference of Costa Rica titled its short five-minute report, “Aparecida, a Pentecost for the Church.” I have repeatedly heard expressions like “we want new people for new structures”; “we want the Spirit to tell us what are the new directions for us to follow”; or “we require a pastoral conversion in an evangelizing keynote.” All of these expressions are loaded with desire for change, for going further, for “putting out into the deep”, as the representative of the Argentinean Bishops’ Conference said.
For the time being, it seems to me, everything will remain in an orderly shape. I think that, while Aparecida will in fact usher in some important novelties, it will not be able to cause the stronger winds that would make the whole house tremble (Acts 2:2). Lay ministries will not advance to a point that would cause noise; women will not be granted the official right to participate the way they desire; the preferential option for the poor will remain as a decoration in the Final Document; the dream for a cultural re-conquest will become more important than the need to adapt to the new plural and diverse reality; as far as celibacy, nothing will be said (even though in Brazil, for instance, there’s a growing number of “married priests”); in sum, the house will be kept in order and the winds will not make it tremble.
For now, then, everything will remain under control. Let the barulho go somewhere else.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
By Harold Segura
The Eucharistic celebration of yesterday, Friday, was the responsibility of Bishop Álvaro Leonel Ramazzini of San Marcos, Guatemala, who, because he was sick, delegated it on his fellow countryman Bishop Julio Cabrera, of Jalapa. Ramazzini is one more of several participants who haven’t been able to leaver their hotels due to what is now called “the virus of the Fifth”—in reference to the Fifth Conference. Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo (Colombia), the Pope’s delegate, has been in bed for two days now; the same applies to Bishop Plácido Rodríguez of Las Cruces, United States. Other sick participants are at the Assembly, spreading their virus in an involuntary proselytism (to use church language).
I had the honor of meeting Ramazzini last year, when he was very kind to accept an invitation we made from World Vision to accompany us in an international encounter. He traveled from San Marcos to Antigua Guatemala to speak to us about social justice—but not in his theory, but in his pastoral practice that has been so broad and courageous. He has been repeatedly threatened because of his commitment to the peasants in his diocese. He organized a Pastoral Project on Land in order to advice small farmers, whom he is requesting to hold discussions with the Agricultural Chamber in order to reach equitable agreements on the issues of melon, cardamom and other products whose marketing has caused serious conflict. He has also raised his voice in favor of the people when the United States presses for the destruction of the poppy crops, the work source for the poorest. He is a threatened bishop and his people know why.
Manfred Grellert (former Vice-President of World Vision), who was in Antigua when Ramazzini visited us, said to me, “I like this guy. He speaks with the force of those bishops I thought were no longer in stock.” Manfred was referring to the generation of Leonidas Proaño in Ecuador, Samuel Ruiz in Mexico, Helder Câmara and Pedro Casaldáliga in Brazil, Gerardo Valencia Cano in Colombia, and, of course, Óscar Arnulfo Romero in El Salvador.
So when I learned that Ramazzini would be in charge of the celebration I prepared for his homily. Even though he was not present—a pity—he sent the homily, which was read by Bishop Cabrera. The scripture passage was John 21:15-19, where Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. He didn’t use the text to speak about Peter’s authority—he preached about the love that Jesus requires of his pastors. Love of God and love of neighbor—and the latter expressed in humility, service and fight against injustice and poverty. He spoke about the radical following of Jesus, and ended with two examples of radicalness—Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero and Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera, “whose life was Christ, and they gave their lives for him.” I wanted to applaud. (The full text of the homily can be found at http://www.celam.info/content/view/399/344/ )
Archbishop Romero was briefly with us, hand in hand with Gerardi, but not to everyone’s liking. By the way—how deep is the influence of that generation of prophets on this Conference? What is left in Aparecida of the “preferential option for the poor”? I’m not in a condition to calculate that presence. I can only perceive that it is deeper than the conservatives want, but not as much as the Continent needs. There are evident polarizations. For example, at my right hand sits a German bishop who gets excited whenever someone says “Grassroots Ecclesial Communities” (he met them in his passing by Peru when he served as a bishop there); whereas at my left sits the President of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, in Rome, an Argentinean priest who introduced himself to one of us on the first day as a member of Opus Dei. There are marked differences not only in the political field, but also in ethical stands, in the lines of pastoral action and in the forms of recognizing the new place of the Catholic Church in the Continent.
Of Romero and his generation, enough is left for longing and hope. There are some who are attentive to ensure that some “key issues for theology and pastoral work in Latin America and the Caribbean” will not be absent from the final document—a reading of reality as a prior step to theological development, the references to life, the presence and action of women, the centrality of the Kingdom, of the laity, of the indigenous population and the descendants of Africans. There’s also a group of almost 30 theologians and Bible scholars (Grupo Amerindia), with headquarters five blocks from the basilica, who are advising several bishops. This work they do with enthusiasm and high commitment. Today, for instance, they handed to us the first draft of the “Message to the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean”, a four-page document that will be issued at the end of the Conference, different from the final document, and which will surely be more widely disseminated than the latter. They have given it for us to read this weekend and to discuss it on Monday. In my first reading I can recognize the influence of “progressive” people. On Monday, then, the strength of each group will be measured when the text is voted or changes are requested.
Romero was briefly with us.
Keep us, dear Archbishop, from the insensitivity of those who think that what we have to save is the Church.
Encourage those who are forging the Kingdom. There are still enough of them around.
Keep us, you who taught that “Being the Church is keeping in history, throughout the centuries, the figure of Jesus Christ.”
If possible, stay a little longer.
Friday, May 25, 2007
By Harold Segura
I have always admired the speech ability of most priests and their skill for writing. So much the more if they are Cardinals or Bishops, who have an exquisite academic training and have enjoyed privileges accessible to very few, at least in these lands of the New World. Many of those participating in this Conference have read the classics in their original languages—Cicero in Latin and Aristotle in Greek; not few of them read Pascal in French, Bacon in English and Hegel in German. As I talked with one of the Spanish bishops, he was telling me that he learned classical Greek before biblical Greek (the koiné) and that he studied in Latin when he was an assistant to a parish priest in Switzerland. With great naturalness they tell about their studies under the shade of Karl Rahner, Yves Congar, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar and even Joseph Ratzinger himself, when he was a professor at the University of Bonn. The founders of Latin American liberation theology drank from these same sources and enjoyed these privileges—this has been an elite of enlightened pastors, with the good and bad things this can involve. But I was referring to my admiration for their flowing speech and their easy pen. These days, every public presentation has been given with the purest style and, when writing, they all do so very easily, despite time pressures. On Tuesday morning the redaction work started, and yesterday, Thursday, by noon, we already had 86 written pages with the first draft of the final document. It is true that much revision and editing work is needed, but something formal already exists, which will be the basis for work in the following days. I think the final document will be a book with close to 150 pages. One of the Presidents announced yesterday that its length could be about one third of the one published in Puebla (1979).
This is a Church whose leaders speak well, write quickly and think with a certain depth, but—can they communicate? It is one thing to write well, from the perspective of the redactor, but from the viewpoint of the reader, understanding the text is a different thing. We are here, no longer in the terrain of language but in that of pastoral work. At this time, while the moderators and speakers from the seven groups left the hall for a meeting, the rest of us are listening to responses to the draft document. Several minutes ago we listened to Bishop José Francisco Ulloa (Costa Rica) asking the Assembly what to do to make sure that the document “will not risk ending up in the files.” He said he admired some paragraphs that were “so nicely worded,” but he thought they would not inspire conversion. The bishop suggested to attach “innovative pastoral lines” to each chapter. Another speaker was Professor Ana María Fons Martin, National Director of the Laity in Venezuela, who pointed to the urgency of saying things and living life in such a way that the Church “may re-enchant the world with Jesus Christ, to make possible an encounter with Him.” All this shows that there are concerns about the document, not for the propriety of the language but for its pastoral relevance.
What we need to hope will happen here is what we should also hope for in all other Christian churches and organizations that are interested in drafting lines of pastoral action—that the depth of the Truth will be written in a simple manner, so that the simplicity of the Gospel might be lived with actual depth. Is this a new way of understanding the old dichotomy between orthodoxy and orthopraxis? In the meantime, here I am, next to three bishops—Castrellón Pizano (Colombia), Eguren (Peru) and Rueda (Colombia)—and a layman, Daniel Casco (Paraguay), trying to draft the chapter on youth and children.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
By Harold Segura
Today, like everyday, we left the hotel at 7:15 a.m. in order to arrive at the Basilica 15 minutes later. The Eucharistic celebration —solemn, formal and with all the adornments that this kind of occasion deserves— starts at 8:00 a.m. How would I have liked to witness something similar to this when I was a child! But I, a neighborhood Catholic (I was a Catholic until I was 18)—the most impressive thing I could ever get was the mass before dawn on Easter Sunday, plus an occasional solemn mass like for the perpetual vows of a nun who was my mother’s friend, or the funeral of a priest who was my father’s friend. As far as hierarchical rank, I didn’t go beyond being an amateur altar boy at the Church of St. Francis in Cali, Colombia.
Between 7:30 and 8:00 a.m. there’s time for the Cardinals, bishops, priests and deacons to go down to the basement to look for their liturgical vestments and get ready for the entrance procession. Everything happens in perfect order. There’s no room for improvisation. The chasuble, the bishop’s cap (red or purple, depending on the rank), the alb, the stole and the red liturgy book. At the Mass, everything is in full order. Well-read prayers, well-intoned Gregorian chant, homilies written beforehand, paused readers, everything in its place and every person where he or she ought to be. It looks as if they had rehearsed everything many times. I wonder—what to they do to achieve such perfection? For me—whenever I’m the minister for a solemn wedding, there’s always something that goes wrong. Either the young boy drops the rings, or the bride’s bouquet slips from her hands, or the bridegroom forgets what he’s supposed to say.
One hour later, when the Mass is over, we all go to the meeting hall. Once again we enter the ample basement of the Basilica. The vestments go back to their places, and so do the participants. By the way, the order in which we sit corresponds to rank and dignity—the Cardinals in front, the bishops in the middle, the priests and religious a little farther behind, and the experts and observers far into the back… and then journalists, theologians and advisor Bible scholars, all outside the hall.
Once in the hall, before starting with the program items, a prayer written by Benedict XVI for this Conference. There are four working sessions during the day. Between sessions, the required prayers—at 16:00 hours, fifteen minutes for the Ninth Hour; and at 19:30, half an hour for Vespers. Each of those prayers includes Gregorian chant, slow-paced hymns, read prayers, sung psalms and, in the afternoon, the lectio divina.
In the sessions of yesterday (Wednesday) and of today (Thursday), our work has focused on the redaction of the first draft of the final document. There are sixteen small working groups, each one connected to one of the seven Commissions (one Commission for each of the seven chapters in the outline agreed on last Monday). The methodology is quite creative and technical, but the time for producing the texts is short , which has made several participants uncomfortable as they feel that much is being asked of us while they’re giving us too little time. The fact is that today we already have the first draft of the whole document. We will read it and then, before the day is over, personal comments will be submitted.
But let us continue with each day’s work. The working day concludes at 20:00 hours, and then we go back to the hotel. All the hotels are modest. This city had never imagined it would some day host such illustrious visitors—I mean the Cardinals and Bishops. Thus, the five or six hotels could easily be classified, not according to the number of stars (I don’t think they would reach two or three), but according to the number of Cardinals staying there. For instance, I’m in a “three-Cardinal” hotel. Breakfast, lunch and dinner all happen in an environment of kind fellowship. Conversations have to do with anything, and laughter comes easily. It is in the meals, in the car to the hotel, in the streets or in the hallways that ecumenical rapprochement emerges quite naturally. It has always been like that—ecumenism blooms easily when friendship is present.
(Paraphrase of John 15:15: “We will no longer call each other separated brethren, but friends, because a separated brother doesn’t know what is said about him when he’s not present; but we will call each other friends, because we all confess the same Father, who calls us to listen to his voice and to obey him.”)